THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESIDENT CLINTON'S RURAL ACTION PLAN FOR AMERICA July 23, 1998
Five and A Half Years of Progress, but Challenges Remain. For five and a half years, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have worked to expand opportunity for rural Americans and farm families. The Administration has provided critical disaster assistance to rural homeowners, farm owners, and business owners, as well as to ranchers who have lost livestock, fought to expand U.S. agricultural exports, improved our school lunch programs by buying surplus commodities, and worked to diversify the sources of enterprise and income in rural America. But rural America still faces challenges -- with the economic crisis in Asia weakening some of our best customers for farm products, strong world crop production bringing prices down, and farmers facing floods and fires and drought and crop disease.
Today, President Clinton Announces Important Steps to Address these Challenges.
An Action Plan for Rural America. President Clinton today is laying out a four-point action plan for rural America that:
Agriculture Disaster Assistance for Texas Counties. President Clinton today is announcing that all Texas counties are eligible for disaster assistance, making additional help available to producers whose crops have been ravaged by drought. The President will dispatch Secretary Glickman to Texas and Oklahoma next week to survey the hardest-hit regions and to report back on other steps that we should take.
A FOUR-POINT ACTION PLAN FOR RURAL AMERICA
Implementing the Wheat Purchase Initiative. On Saturday, President Clinton took strong steps to help our family farmers by reducing crop surpluses. He directed the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase 80 million bushels of wheat, which will lift prices for all wheat. The President launched a new initiative to press the struggle against world hunger, donating U.S. wheat to countries where the need is greatest -- places such as Sudan and Indonesia.
Fighting for Full Funding of the IMF to Shore Up America's Customers Around the World. We must keep the market for our products growing by giving the International Monetary Fund the resources it needs to stabilize Asian economies that are critical customers for America's farmers. Farm and other exports are responsible for 30% of the economic growth we have enjoyed since 1993.
Exempting Food Exports from U.S. Sanctions Policy. The President believes that commercial exports of food and other basic human necessities should be excluded from economic sanctions as a matter of general principle -- except under compelling circumstances. President Clinton signed into law an exemption for US food exports from economic sanctions required by the nuclear non-proliferation law. This law allows American farmers to continue selling wheat to Pakistan, the market for 7 percent of US wheat. But Congress should do more to give us the flexibility we need to protect our domestic interests, without harming our foreign interests. This could best be accomplished by ensuring that the President has the authority to determine whether exempting food would be in the national interest.
Aggressively Opening Markets Around the World. The Clinton Administration has a comprehensive approach to opening agricultural markets in our key export markets -- bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally. Agricultural exports to Mexico have surged over the last year. In Latin America, we have established a negotiating group focused on agricultural trade in the Free Trade Area of the Americas process, and in the Asia-Pacific region, we have kicked off discussions aimed at lowering barriers to specific agricultural products. Across the Atlantic, the President and British Prime Minister Blair announced a new initiative with the European Union last May to address regulatory barriers to bioengineered agricultural exports. In his recent speech at the World Trade Organization, the President laid out an ambitious agenda for the next round of global agricultural negotiations, starting with a launch next year in the United States. And last month, the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative initiated an Administration-wide effort to combat phony technical barriers to agricultural exports.
Enforcing Our Trade Agreements. We have been aggressive in using every tool at our disposal to ensure that agreements made are agreements kept. The United States is bringing and winning more cases in the WTO than any other country, and over one third of the cases we have initiated involve agriculture. For instance, the Administration has won important agricultural disputes at the WTO challenging the European Union's restrictions on some Americanproduced beef and Philippine barriers to pork and poultry. And now, the President and Vice President are pressing France to clear the way for $200 million in U.S. corn exports to Europe. We have also made clear that we support legislation under the Section 301 law to create a new review mechanism to identify and address unfair trade practices in agriculture.
Promoting Farm Exports. The Clinton Administration has nearly doubled USDA export financing in the past year to nearly $6 billion. On July 7, the Administration proposed legislation to ensure the flexibility to move Export Enhancement Program (EEP) balances left at the end of the year into other programs to fund additional sales of U.S. crops. This year, the President proposed that unused balances be carried over into subsequent years to expand U.S. exports. Congress should move quickly to approve these initiatives.
Increasing Access to Capital in Rural America. The Clinton Administration has invested more than $175 million in the nation's three rural empowerment zones and 33 rural enterprise communities (EZ/ECs) since 1995, creating or saving over 7,000 jobs. And more than 700,000 rural citizens now receive additional services in the EZ/EC's as a result of USDA loans, grants, and programs. The Administration wants to build on this effort to bring economic development to distressed rural areas by providing $40 million in mandatory grants to each of the five new rural EZ's over the next 10 years.
2. Improving the farm Income safety Net
Urging Congress to Help Farmers and Ranchers in Need through Emergency Funding. Last week, President Clinton called on Congress to relieve farm financial stress, urging emergency funding to address extraordinary conditions in many regions of the country. The bill is now going to conference, and the Administration urges the conference committee to include emergency funding for the three purposes the President recommended:
The Administration is assessing the damage that farmers and ranchers have suffered because of natural disasters and will be providing the most current estimates to Congress.
Enhancing the Fund for Rural America. The Fund provides additional resources for rural development and innovative agricultural research that are vital to improving the quality of life in rural America and increasing the productivity of U.S. farmers. The Administration proposed creating the Fund in 1996 to boost the overall Federal investment in these activities. Unfortunately, Congress is not giving a penny to the Fund for Rural America this year. We will continue to fight for full funding -- $300 million over the next five years.
Modernizing Agricultural Research. The President recently signed into law the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998, which puts funding for crop insurance on a sure footing for the future, and boosts investment on agricultural research and rural development. Unfortunately, the House has moved to block $120 million of this mandatory funding for next year.
Improving Crop Insurance. The President has instructed Secretary Glickman to redouble his efforts to augment the current crop insurance program to more adequately meet farmers' needs to protect against farm income losses. Federal crop insurance represents a fundamental fabric of the farm safety net, yet circumstances in some regions reveal the shortcomings of the current program.
3. Strengthening Rural Infrastructure by Improving Transportation,
Protecting Universal Service, and Improving our Schools
Investing in Rural Transportation Systems. President Clinton recently signed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which guarantees $198 billion over six years to continue rebuilding America's transportation infrastructure. Rural America will benefit from new and rebuilt roads, expanded life-line paratransit services, a greater voice in transportation investment decision-making to ensure that rural areas receive their fair share of federal funds. TEA-21 also dedicates funding to help rural welfare recipients get to jobs, and extends the Ethanol Tax Credit through 2007.
Developing a Long-Term Agricultural Transportation Strategy. In Kansas City on July 27-28, Secretary Glickman will host a summit on "Agricultural Transportation Challenges for the 21st Century." Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater will join Secretary Glickman in announcing plans to develop a Long-Term Agricultural Transportation Strategy to help meet these important challenges.
Continuing Air Service. President Clinton has continued the record $50 million in annual Essential Air Service operating subsidies to smaller, more isolated communities that otherwise would not be served by commercial carriers.
Protecting Universal Service. President Clinton strongly supports universal service to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable telephone service for telecommunications. More than 38 million residential and business subscribers are served by telephone companies that receive support for serving "high cost" (rural) areas. Without universal service, telephone rates would be prohibitively expensive for many Americans living in rural areas, and they would not be able to access the Internet or phone service. All Americans would then lose, since our telecommunications system is much more valuable to the nation when we are all connected. The President strongly supports expanding universal service to include schools, libraries, and rural health care providers. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are threatening repeal of the e-rate and undermine universal service.
Pushing for Rural School Modernization. Almost one-half of the nation's 80,000 public elementary and secondary schools are located in rural or small town areas. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, 30 percent of those rural and small town schools (educating 4.5 million children) have at least one building in need of extensive repair or replacement. We must move forward this year with a comprehensive effort to address the needs of rural schoolchildren.
Improving Distance Learning. President Clinton has proposed legislation to make it easier for Americans to gain access to new skills using distance learning. In his new Higher Education Act proposal, the President seeks to broaden opportunities for distance learners by including computers in the "cost of attendance" for purposes of financial aid; allowing institutions that offer more than 50 percent of their courses using distance learning to be eligible for student aid; and providing grants to "virtual universities" and other experiments with distance learning with a program called "Learning Anytime, Anywhere Partnerships." The Administration's Distance Learning initiative includes loans and grants to help bring the most modern technology and education to rural America.
4. Promoting Health, Welfare, and a cleaner environment for Rural
Advancing Telemedicine. The President has set a goal of connecting all rural clinics and hospitals to the "information superhighway." In 1996, he signed the Telecommunications Act, which expanded the definition of universal service to include rural health care providers. The program is designed to ensure that rural health care providers pay no more than their urban counterparts for telecommunication services. This will help improve the quality of care in rural America by allowing patients to receive advice from the best specialists in the country.
Improving Food Safety. The President's Food Safety Initiative is a comprehensive plan for improving food safety, including education, new technology, standards and more inspectors to make sure all food, including food that is imported, is safe. Congress should fund this $101 million initiative when it is raised in conferences on appropriations bills. The President has also called on Congress to pass the Food Safety Enforcement Enhancement Act, which gives USDA the ability to assess civil fines and to order mandatory recalls of unsafe meat and poultry products.
Welfare-to-Work. One of the biggest barriers facing people who move from welfare to work, particularly in rural areas, is finding transportation to get to jobs, training, and child care centers. The President's new transportation bill authorizes $750 million over five years for his initiative to help those on welfare get to work. Last year's balanced bill included $3 billion to help move the people who are hardest to place people into jobs -- $700 million of it to be awarded on a competitive basis -- about 30% to rural areas.
Promoting Clean Water. To promote private conservation efforts, the President's new Clean Water Action plan includes about $100 million a year in new resources for farmers to help control polluted runoff, create 2 million miles of buffer zones next to waterways, and develop pollution prevention plans covering more than 35 million acres.
Providing Safe Drinking Water: In 1994 President Clinton launched the Water 2000 Initiative to help upgrade and expand drinking water service in rural communities plagued by some of the nation's worst water quality, quantity, and dependability problems. Water 2000 has already improved drinking water quality or provided a public water supply for the first time to some 2.5 million people in over 1,300 rural communities nationwide.
Making Rural Areas Safer. The President has awarded more than $2.3 billion in COPS grants to 10,500 law enforcement agencies serving small communities. 49% of the grants were awarded to communities with populations of fewer than 10,000.